For those who may have not done it before, the very idea of venturing into the wilds with children can seem rather daunting. But it’s easier than you think and the benefits are enormous.
Every summer holidays, thousands of families exit the city to get back to basics, either camping or tramping in our country’s wealth of parks and wild places. An overnight stay in a backcountry hut or under the canvas is a great adventure and a wonderful way to spend time with your family,
have fun and discover new things.
In our increasingly busy, urban and technology-driven lives, spending a few days totally unplugged from the modern world can be rejuvenating. Camping or tramping as a family gives you more time together. Life becomes simpler. Jobs and play time are shared. With nature as your playground, you can’t help but get moving — the perfect antidote to more sedentary past-times like watching TV or playing computer games. And food cooked outside always tastes so much better.
Of course, if you go camping you’ve got to be prepared for whatever nature throws at you. If you have a caravan, make sure you’ve looked at the best leisure battery chargers to make sure your battery doesn’t go flat. If you’re going to pitch a tent, make sure you’ve assessed the surrounding area for potential dangers. If you’re wanting to explore, always make sure you’ve got a way to contact the outside world just in case an emergency happens. With the right gear, right planning and plenty of options not too far from home, your child’s first tramping or camping trip can be an experience they will always remember — and want to repeat often!
for first-time family trampers and campers
1 Share your adventures with other families. Go with other families with similar-aged children, (perhaps even those who have done it before). You can then take turns at doing the jobs like putting up tents and cooking, while the others keep the kids entertained and safe. The kids will keep each other energised too.
2 Make sure you stay warm and dry, especially at night. A good tent, warm sleeping bags and mats are essential to keep everyone happy and healthy and to get a good night’s sleep. Borrow gear for the first few times you go tramping or camping — it’s a big investment, so make sure it’s something your family would like to do often before buying up large.
3 Pick places that that offer something for everyone. A tranquil forest may not appeal to an 8-year-old in the same way as it does to you. Choose tramping tracks with natural-looking trails that wind through forests. Choose campsites with places to play and safely explore, perhaps with a river or beach nearby for swimming.
4 Be prepared for four seasons in one day. New Zealand weather can change rapidly with little warning. Be prepared for all conditions — extreme heat, wet and cold. Take hats and sunscreen, raincoats and plenty of warm layers. Create a checklist before you go and make sure you know where everything has been packed. You might want to look at getting some drawers installed in your trailer as these can be easily slid out using High quality Drawer Slides, making them great for easy access storage. Check before your trip for up-to-date information on weather and track conditions to know what to pack for all eventualities.
5 Watch out for small biting things. Beech forests can be particularly popular for wasps in summer, take antihistamine creams/tablets and be aware of any allergies in your group. Sandflies/namu namu are an annoying presence in many places, although easily managed with insect repellent or by covering up with light long-sleeved shirts and pants in the evenings. St Johns Wort cooling gel is very soothing on bites and sunburn too.
6 Keep things simple. You won’t need fancy toys or gourmet food (at least the first few times). Keep food simple and quick to prepare, but with plenty of snacks to keep energy levels up. When camping, leave the gaming consoles at home; instead, bring t-ball and frisbees, plus cards and books for rainy days. Of course, if you are tramping, you will need to carry everything so it’s a good way to pare things back to the bare essentials!
first family camp
There are plenty of affordable, family-friendly campsites within 1-2 hours’ drive of major centres. A good place to start looking is the DOC website or the Top10 network (www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-stay/family-campers/ ;www.top10.co.nz/blog/tips-for-a-great-new-zealand-camping-holiday/).
Arrive at your campsite early so you have plenty of time to set up. Pitching a tent in the dark with kids can be hard work. Give the children jobs to do — like handing you the pegs or assembling poles — so they don’t wander off.
If tenting with babies, chose a tent site that has a safe, flat piece of ground so you can put baby down without fear of them getting into harm; close by but in a spot where older kids are not going to be walking through. Take an old blanket or tarp.
Take a couple of large plastic basins – they can be used for storing gear inside the tent, a baby bath or tent-side clean-up, or for the kids to wash the dishes in.
If your kids still sleep with nightlights at home, take along some glow sticks. These are lots of fun to play with, are cheap and safe ?nightlights’ for inside the tent. Other fun things to take are water balloons, kites and bug-catchers.
first family tramp
New Zealand has a huge network of back country huts — some are like luxury lodges, others are tiny two-bunk bivvies. For your first tramp, pick a hut within 2-3 hours’ walk on an easy tramping track, with bridges over rivers. Check the DOC website for track grades and family recommendations. Some private tracks offer pack-carrying services which might appeal to some!
Let the kids pack and carry their own gear. A toy and a small bottle of water are enough for littlies to start with and be prepared to carry it for them later if they get tired. Older ones can carry their own warm top and snacks, torch and survival blanket.
Well-fitting sneakers or boots with good tread are essential. Watch out for blisters as children don’t always notice these are forming until it’s too late.
Treasure hunts or singing songs along the way can help boost flagging spirits. And if all else fails, bribe them with chocolate!
Keep them fed and watered — young people need frequent top-ups when walking. Take high energy snacks like barley sugars and milo in a thermos to warm up cold bodies. A sheet of plastic folds up small to fit into a daypack, and provides a dry place to sit.
Before you go on an any trip, let someone know what your plans are. You can do this online or by downloading a form at www.adventuresmart.org.nz/Outdoors-Intentions/Default.asp
- You need to be completely self-sufficient with a sleeping bag for everyone, cooking stove and pots, plates, cups and cutlery.
- Carry a map and compass, first aid and survival kits, water bottle and plenty of high-energy food.
- Carry a tent or fly as sleeping huts can fill up at any time.
- Hire a 406MHz personal locator beacon, Mountain Radio, or satellite phone for backup. Mobile phones rarely work in the mountains.
- Lake Daniells Track – 3hr one way (8.4km), starts beside the Lewis Pass Highway, 3hr drive from Christchurch.
- Mt Somers Track to Woolshed Creek Hut — 3hr one way (5 km), 2hr drive from Christchurch.
- Orongorongo Track — 2hr return (5.2 km), in Rimutaka Forest Park, 30km from Wellington.
- Aotea Track on Great Barrier Island has two huts both within approx 3 hours on an easy tramping track, good for families. There is also good camping on the island.
For more info: www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/tracks-and-walks
Sarah Mankelow has worked in conservation for over 15 years, and is a mother of two nature-loving children.